“For our new students this semester and as a reminder to the rest of you, there will be no quizzes or tests.
“Then how will you grade us?”
The looks of disbelief on those two girls, who were new to the class, was met with a chorus from the rest:
“You’ll find out!”
My first experience teaching sophomore English was going to take an unconventional path. I planned to use portfolio-based assessment. That meant the students would be graded on their participation in class and various presentations connected with the literature we would cover. The only thing they would turn in for a grade was their writing portfolio.
We still followed the syllabus, the requirements, what was written in stone: Antigone, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, several short stories plus a novel. I simply gave it all a different, nontraditional approach.
I was the outlier. The trailblazer. The other English teachers were skeptical and even critical. But the department head who had recommended me, knowing what my goals were, was completely satisfied. And so were the students and their parents.
Traditions have their place. In our family we have a traditional way of doing many things: celebrating holidays; setting aside family nights; eating dinner together; praying before meals wherever we are. My husband and I took traditions directly from our own childhood or tweaked them to fit our family. Sometimes we added new traditions that we recognized were missing from our own experiences. But we would never allow something to be added that upset the fundamental values and beliefs we cherished. Our children knew and respected that.
Certainly churches have traditions. But so do organizations and companies. “It’s the way we’ve always done it.” That comment certainly marks a tradition. It speaks to the common values and beliefs of our business or group.
But traditions can also be restrictive. “The way we’ve always done it” should be examined from time to time to see if it still works or is serving our customers or members or family in the best way. Is that framework solid? Are the core traditions still valid and useful? Do they speak to a path forward?
If they are, then those traditions are strong enough to build upon. They represent our unique entity, our culture. New traditions and ideas will easily fit into our foundational framework. Those who have gone before us have established our traditions. And it’s not right if we don’t acknowledge their work, their ideas. Much of what we do is built on what went before us.
But the questions remains: Are we accepting of a trailblazer who is respectful of traditions and also wants to try a path never taken? We need to recognize new talent, new ideas and ask the right questions: How do their ideas fit into the traditional framework? Are their voices heard and respected? Are we willing to try a new approach?
Our Lord Jesus was a trailblazer. He knew certain man-made traditions had been established that had no reference to the love and grace coming from His Father. He defended the choices He and His disciples made, declaring those traditions were not serving anyone but those religious leaders in power (Mark 7:8-9). He also reminded those tradition defenders that the laws and traditions were meant to help and encourage people, not bind them to painful restrictions: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
But He didn’t throw out the law. He didn’t say sin wasn’t a problem. He still said it would lead to death and needed a sacrifice to pay for it. Those core truths were emphatically defended!
And then He blazed the trail to the cross. He would be the sacrifice for us… for our sin. Through His death and resurrection, our Lord Jesus showed us that the love and grace of God was there, just as it always had been and always would be.
That is our comfort. That is our secure hope and joy!